Slow and Steady Wins the Race

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By Sally Squires
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, December 27, 2005; 10:37 AM

Savor the flavor of your food, if you'd like to maintain your weight this holiday season-- or any time of year.

That's the message from a new study by Japanese researchers that suggests slow eaters are less likely to add weight than those who quickly gobble their meals.

Researchers have long suspected that eating fast might play a role in the growing obesity epidemic. But until now, few studies have systematically examined the effect of eating quickly in healthy adults, and those results were mixed.

To determine the role that speed of eating might play in adding weight, Japanese researchers studied nearly 4,400 healthy, middle-aged adults. Participants in the study rated their eating habits in five categories: very slow, relatively slow, medium, relatively fast and very fast.

Researchers assessed each participant's food and physical activity for one month and also took into account age, smoking habits and alcohol intake. They used body mass index (BMI) measurements to compare participants' current weight with their weight at age 20.

The study found a direct correlation between speed of eating and BMI. The slowest eaters showed the lowest rise in BMI from age 20, while the quickest eaters showed the greatest increase in BMI.

The findings suggest that "eating fast may lead to obesity independent of energy intake or other lifestyle factors in middle-aged, non-diabetic men and women," the team reported at the annual meeting of the North American Association for the Study of Obesity.

Here are other simple ways to help keep your weight in check:

Alternate bites and sips. That is one strategy recommended by Barbara Rolls, professor of nutrition at Penn State University. Rolls, author of "The Volumetrics Weight-Control Plan," suggests taking a sip of water or another beverage between each bite of food. But skip drinking water before a meal unless you're just thirsty. A recent study by scientists at Virginia Tech and the University of Colorado found no reduction in calories from drinking water 30 minutes before a meal.

Drop the fork. Ditto for the knife and spoon. Putting down utensils in between bites is a commonly used behavioral strategy to help slow food consumption. As for the familiar advice to chew each bite 30 times or more, doing so may slow food consumption, but there's little scientific evidence to suggest that it helps with fullness or feelings of satiety.

Look at your bottom line. Numerous studies now show that food records, portion control, regular weigh-ins, daily physical activity and finding caloric balance are what consistently separate "successful losers" -- people who maintain their weight loss -- from those who regain it. Two other key habits: eating breakfast daily and having regular, healthful meals.

Have a back-up plan. Life rarely goes as expected particularly during the holidays. Studies of habit change show that people who plan ahead but then are flexible enough to have alternative strategies ready for when things go awry are more likely to succeed at their goals.

Walk faster. It will help burn some of the added calories that you're likely consuming this holiday season. Brisk walking and other moderate aerobic activity appears to rev metabolism for nearly a day afterward, according to a recent study of women, conducted by U.S. and Australian researchers. The team, lead by Gary Hunter at the University of Alabama-Birmingham, compared the metabolism-revving effects of 40 minutes of moderate activity against weight training. Moderate aerobic activity, but not weight lifting, boosted calorie burning for the next 20 hours. So speed walk to errands or while doing last-minute shopping. Or just give yourself the gift of a 40-minute walk a couple of times this season to help control calories.

Enjoy a progressive meal. It's one way to attend multiple holiday parties the same day or night without over-eating. So have hors d'oeurves at the first party, salad at the next, the main course at the following party and dessert or coffee at your last stop.

This marks the sixth and final week of the Lean Plate Club Holiday Challenge. The goal is simply to maintain your weight during the holiday season -- a time when studies suggest that healthy-weight people add about a pound, but overweight individuals put on about five pounds. More importantly, overweight and obese people don't usually lose their holiday pounds in the spring.

It's never too late to join the Holiday Challenge. Find resources, weight, food and activity charts and more at where you can also subscribe to the free weekly, Lean Plate Club e-mail newsletter. There's no Web chat this week because of the holidays, but you can e-mail Sally Squires anytime at

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